Last year, to celebrate my favourite and most spooky time of year, I wrote an article about the 13 spookiest graveyards from around the world. Now I’m back with a list of the world’s most haunted places! Thirteen of them, of course.
Just as a heads up, some of the places I included in this list are part of the colonial history in South Africa and Indonesia, and unfortunately I can’t delve into too much about that in this article unless I wanted it to be a 50 minute read. I hope my writing comes across respectfully— while still outlining their spooky natures — but if this is something that makes you uncomfortable then you might want to pass on this.
And in no particular order, here they are:
Starting in my home and native land, Canada, there is a hotel that would put The Shining to shame. Well, maybe not, as most of the ghost encounters here seem to be of the benign sort.
The hotel first opened in 1888, while surrounded by the gorgeous Rocky Mountains, history hangs thickly in the halls… along with some spirits of those who never checked out. One of the most famous spirits is that of a bride who, on her wedding day, supposedly fell to her death down a flight of stairs. She can be seen dancing in the grand ballroom.
There’s even a room that was sealed off from the publish after numerous reports of terrifying experiences. The room, 873, is allegedly the scene of a murder-suicide of a man and his wife and daughter.
One less tragic spirit is that of Sam, the bellman, who worked in the hotel until 1975. His spirit still supposedly pulls shifts and will help guests with their bags before disappearing.
Across the pond is a place I couldn’t leave off this list. Of course, you can’t swing a dead cat in Britain without hitting a haunted place. But, the Tower is one of the most famous places to visit in London and in the whole of the UK. Established in 1067, this fortress has served many functions and has seen many gruesome deaths.
My personal favourite story is that of Anne Boleyn, who was executed at the tower after being charged with treason by her husband, King Henry VIII, in 1536. Her headless form can be seen wandering about the grounds, especially around the Chapel of St. Peter, where she was buried.
But, Anne Boleyn was not the first to meet a grisly end and certainly not the most tragic. The ghosts of two young princes who were imprisoned and eventually disappeared in the Tower — their murder is still unsolved to this day.
They were the two sons of King Edward IV, Edward (12) and Richard (9), the former being much too young to rule when his father passed in 1483. As a result, the late king’s brother took over as protector of the throne of England. But, the boys were then taken to the Tower and would never leave. The late king’s brother, Richard, manipulated his way to the throne, and once there, the young princes were of no consequence to him. During their stay in the tower, they were seen less and less until they disappeared altogether. But, their ghosts can now be seen wandering the grounds, often holding hands.
As one of the most iconic Chinese landmarks, The Forbidden City has only been open to the public since the 1940s. It was once the private palace of China’s ruling class; the estate of the Ming Dynasty from 1420–1644 and the abode of the heads of the Qing Dynasty until 1912. In 1987, the palace was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is now a museum.
Undoubtedly, throughout its 600 years of occupation, the massive complex saw its share of murders, executions, and deaths. There are stories of jealous concubines poisoning one another.
As with most haunted places, the specter of a woman in white is said to be seen walking the grounds while crying.
As one of the longest continuously inhabited castles in Ireland, Leap Castle is known as one of the most haunted castles in Ireland and maybe the world. Supposedly built in the early 1500s by the ruling clan at the time, the O’Caroll clan, the castle has seen hundreds of years worth of history — some of it bloody.
The castle passed from father to son and sometimes changed families altogether, but the history of the castle was often punctuated by times of war, revenge, and power struggles. Armies lost their lives there, family members murdered each other, and it was even burned in 1922, being in the hands of a family who supported the British crown.
One of the most haunted spots on the castle grounds is the Bloody Chapel, aptly named for an event that happened during the rule of the O’Carolls. The legend goes that one of the O’Caroll sons stabbed his brother, a priest in the middle of performing a mass, in order to gain power. Many spooky sightings have been reported coming out of the burnt-out shell of the chapel.
There are so many different named ghosts that have been seen on sight from many different times in the castle’s violent history that a whole article could be written about this one place.
A haunted ship? Yep!
Construction of the RMS Queen Mary began in 1930 in Scotland and the maiden voyage of the ship was in 1936. The RMS Queen Mary set a new standard for transatlantic travel and had 5 dining rooms and lounges, 2 cocktail bars and swimming pools, a grand ballroom, a squash court, and even a small hospital. When WWII broke out, the ship was painted grey and labeled the “grey ghost” and ferried troops across the waters to the front lines.
When it was retired in 1967 on the southern coast of California it continued to be a popular attraction and was a hotel and event venue. Over the course of its 1001 transatlantic crossings, there were a recorded 49 deaths, though it’s said that a total of 150 spirits linger aboard the ship.
Notable ghosts are that of a crew member, supposedly crushed by a watertight door, and of course, there’s a lady in white who dances, and several others can usually be seen in 1930s garb wandering around the poolside.
Locally known as “The Castle,” this South African bastion fortress was built by the Dutch East India Company between 1666–1679 to replace an older fort. It is the oldest existing building in South Africa. The fortress once housed a church, a bakery, workshops of various types, living quarters, shops, and many other facilities.
Part of the castle was used as a prison during the Second Boer War (1899–1902) and the former cells are still intact. Today, the castle is a museum but it also acted as the headquarters for the South African Army on the Western Cape.
With such a history, no wonder it’s known as one of the most haunted spots in South Africa. It plays host to numerous ghosts including various soldiers who can be seen at their original posts, a soldier who hung himself from the bell tower, and the ghost of Lady Anne Barnard, who lived at the castle for 5 years.
In a small village 40 minutes from Bristol in the UK, is one of the oldest buildings in the area. The building was originally built in 1145, though the site of the building was a pre-Christian burial ground. We’re off to a good start on the haunted factor. It’s even said that a dark portal to the spirit world was opened at the location of the inn.
Through the building’s long history, it has been used in many different ways. Originally, the building was to house workers and masons who were building St. Mary’s Church nearby. Then it was the home to a priest before becoming a public house (pub) and inn. In the 1960s, someone actually bought the Ancient Ram Inn as a private residence. The man stayed at the inn and preserved the building until his death in 2017. But, his stay was not without visitations and encounters with spirits.
The most famous ghost is that of a local woman who was accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake at the height of the British witch hunts during the 1500s. The story goes that she fled from her trial and took refuge at the inn. Unfortunately, she was captured and burned. But, the room where she was held was called The Witch’s Room.
Also known as Island of the Dead Dolls, this island, located in the channels of Xochimilco just south of Mexico City is one of the creepiest places I’ve personally ever heard of. The island itself is dedicated to a poor young girl who drowned and washed up on the shore of the island. Now, hundreds of dolls — in various states of decay — call the island home.
Don Julian Santana Barrera, the caretaker of the island, allegedly found the little girl’s body and after found a doll floating in the waters of the canal. He picked up the doll and hung it on a tree as a way of memorializing the girl and showing respect to her spirit. According to legend, Barrera was haunted by the spirit and continued hanging dolls as a way to appease her. After 50 years of collecting and hanging dolls on the island, Barrera himself was found dead, drowned in the same spot he found the little girl.
Now, the island is a tourist destination, with more people bringing dolls to the island. Despite the fact that Barrera was a peaceful and quiet man, the island is a somewhat nightmarish attraction. It is said the dolls move and change positions on their own.
Just north of the Mexican border in San Diego is a historically significant home that has also been labeled one of the most haunted houses in the United States. The Whaley House was originally built as a granary, which then became a courthouse, with the two-story edition added in 1857 by Thomas Whaley. The building had been built on the sight of hangings, which obviously had occurred before the construction.
With family deaths, suicides, and the hangings which took place, the land, and the building has seen a gruesome history. Many of the Whaley family members died inside the house, including Thomas Whaley’s 18-month-old son and Violet Whaley, his daughter who committed suicide after a divorce brought her shame.
Some of the more notable ghosts include Thomas Whaley himself and his wife, Anna. Another being that of “Yankee Jim,” or James Robinson, who hung on a gallows where the house now stands for grand larceny in 1852. Even the Whaley family reported hearing heavy footsteps throughout the house and came to the conclusion that it must be James Robinson.
In the city of Semarang in Indonesia, there is an imposing complex of buildings that was once the headquarters of the Dutch East Indies Railway Company — ah, it’s the Dutch again… colonization! The construction of Lawang Sewu, which translates literally to “Thousand Doors,” began in 1904 and was fully completed in 1919 and is known widely known for being haunted.
During WWII, the Japanese invaded Indonesia and the Japanese army took over Lawang Sewu. The basement of one of the buildings was made into prison and several prisoners were tortured and/or executed on-site. Local folklore continues to speak of the restless souls of those who died at the hands of the Japanese.
When the Indonesian nationalists and the Dutch made to take back Semarang, they used tunnels under the building to sneak into the city. There was a battle and many Indonesian fighters lost their lives.
After the war, the Indonesian army took over the complex and it was later turned over to the Indonesian national railway company. And in 1992, it was designated as “Cultural Property of Indonesia.” The Indonesian government has tried to dispel the spooky image the complex has since, to entice more tourists, but it seems to have stuck.
On the Tasmanian peninsula in Australia, there is a town and former convict settlement, which was established in 1830 with a timber station. From 1833 to 1853, Britain's most hardened criminals were sent to Port Arthur — in fact, they were repeat-offenders, having been convicted of a crime in Australia. Thus, Port Arthur had the strictest security of the British penal system and was basically inescapable.
The prison was an example of the “Separate Prison Typology,” which is sometimes known as the model prison and based on the ideas and design of the panopticon style prison. And the Separate Prison signified a shift from physical punishment to psychological punishment; instead of whippings, a prisoner might be deprived of food. There was also the use of the “Silent System,” which had the inmates hooded and unable to speak to each other. Of course, this led to prisoners developing mental health problems.
Despite being so “progressive” and seen as innovative and almost enlightened as a prison, the shipping, housing, and inmate slave-labor was still just as harsh if worse than others in the nation. With the psychological trauma combined with no hope for escape, it is said that some of the inmates even committed murder — an offense punishable by death — to “escape” the conditions.
An island off the coast is referred to as the Isle of the Dead, where those who had died were buried. Though many records have been lost to time, over 1600 people were buried on the island. But, only 180 of the graves, those belonging to staff and military personnel, are properly marked.
With such a history, no wonder the place is said to be haunted.
In my own province of Ontario, in the small town of Penetanguishene, there’s a beautiful Queen Anne-style home that was built in 1885. Carl Beck was a lumber magnate in late Victorian Canada and built the house for his family: a wife and nine children! Beck was prominent in town and was the mayor between 1892–1895 and donated the land on which the Presbyterian church was built.
Visitors to the house claim that objects move on their own and lights turning on and off. Some suspect it’s the vindictive ghost of Carl Beck’s eldest daughter, who was left to care for her 8 siblings when their mother died. When she left to marry and start her own family, she was basically cut from the will and only left $1 when Beck passed away.
If you have the nerve, you can actually rent the house through Airbnb and see for yourself if the house truly is haunted.
Finishing off with another prison, the Crumlin Road Gaol (pronounced “jail”) is a Victorian prison that opened in Belfast, in 1845 and is the only remaining Victorian prison in Northern Ireland. Originally built as a replacement for the current county jail, it was built to hold 500–550 inmates at a time. It was also Ireland’s first prison using the “Separate System” — where have we heard that before — thus, inmates were unable to see or communicate with each other.
The first 106 inmates, a combination of men, women, and children, were forced to march in chains from the original jail to Crumlin Road Gaol in 1846. Executions of prisoners were public, as the jail hadn’t been designed or built with its own gallows, until 1901 when a gallows was built inside the prison. Throughout the history of the prison, seventeen people were executed in the prison, the last being in 1961. Tragically, the youngest person to die in the prison was a thirteen-year-old boy, who had been given three months in prison and hung himself in his cell in 1858. The dead were buried in the prison grounds in unconsecrated ground — along the back wall near the prison hospital.
In 2019, while on a tour, a ghost in a Victorian-style uniform was spotted in a photograph taken by a visitor. And back in 2016, another visitor, who visited on Halloween, spotted the ghost of a little girl in a photo she had taken. With such an interesting history, including murders, suffragettes, and loyalists, within its 175 years, the Crumlin Road Gaol would be an excellent spot for any adventurous ghost hunters.
I hope you enjoyed learning and delving into the history of some of the most haunted places in the world. When I started this list, I certainly didn’t think it would involve touching on subjects such as colonialism and its haunting effects or prison reform which lead to the psychological scarring of inmates. But, unfortunately, you can’t have haunted places without a few ghosts.
Did your favourite haunted spot make it on the list?